Grease: Live Is The Word

We all have Those Movies: the ones we obsessively watch whenever we catch them on TV, no matter how many times we’ve seen them or who needs dinner. Grease is one of Those Movies for me.

I don’t remember when I first saw Grease; by high school, I’d memorized it. There was – and remains – little about it that I didn’t positively adore, from Sandy’s accent to Danny’s cool, sideways smile; Rizzo’s knock-you-dead-with-one-look glances; the outfits, the dancing…

Oh. And the music. THE MUSIC! I put “Summer Nights” and “We Go Together” on mix tapes. When I was feeling particularly dramatic, I’d theatrically walk around our yard and belt out “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” (no joke). Last spring, when I announced to friends via Facebook that I would love to have a lip sync battle party, I even recorded myself lip syncing to “Hopelessly Devoted To You.” (Nope, no video here; you’ll just have to imagine the awesomeness.)
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Grease isn’t just the word, yo. Grease is my jam.

So I was both excited and apprehensive for Fox’s Grease: Live, which aired last night. I thought it would be neat to see it in a new format, but I was also nervous they’d screw it up – and, not only would it pale in comparison to the original, it would just be a mess.

Still, Grease is Grease, so there was no choice but to watch.

I’ll just cut to the chase: It. Was. Fantastic.
More than that – it was sort of mind-blowing.

I might even have liked it more than the movie.

I won’t officially “review” it (you’re welcome) – if you head to Google, there are dozens of those. I will say I was insanely jealous of the studio audience; I loved the tongue-in-cheek/inside-joke references; seeing Didi Conn and Barry Pearl don their original Pink Lady and T-Bird jackets was pure nostalgic glee; Boyz II Men made me ridiculously happy; the cast’s diversity was just stupendous; and I thought “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” were knocked out of the park.

It wasn’t perfection, of course. Some so-so acting, singing that didn’t compare to the original, sound/technical glitches. I saw them, sure.

Overall, though, those were such small “issues” that I hardly noticed.
What I DID notice was how utterly spectacular the production was. The sets were so clever, the girls and I marveled over them during commercial breaks. The costume changes were imaginative and lightning fast; we were floored. The choreography and cinematography were SO DAMNED GOOD, especially for the finale.

This Yahoo review sums that part up perfectly:

This ten-minute sequence included complex, expertly executed choreography, set changes, costume changes, crowd work, the presence of American military (?), DRONE FOOTAGE, curtain calls, and was possibly one of the more rousing TV celebrations ever filmed. And they did it LIVE. Again, the scope and ambition on display were only outdone by the sincere emotions onscreen, and the incredible effect it had on me as a viewer.

The LIVE aspect of this cannot be overstated. We were continually astonished by the breadth and depth of the production, saying aloud, “How did they DO that??” It was SO big, SO creative, SO daring. Knowing that it was live – that anything could happen – added the perfect element of nervous excitement (you’ve gotta admit – seeing that golf cart nearly bite it at the end was pretty wild).

And that, I think, is the first reason why this production resonated with me: it was beyond anything I’d ever imagined on television. We were watching something extraordinary; history being made. Whereas so much of what makes modern media great is, well, its modernness – 3D and CGI and other technical stuff – Grease: Live was made spectacular simply through imagination, hard work, ridiculous planning and precision and practice, and a go-for-broke attitude, all part of director Tommy Kail’s tremendous vision. When I showed Nick my favorite scenes, I wasn’t raving about the special effects or the actors’ Emmy-worthy performances; instead, I showed him the finale and “Freddy My Love” so he could see how impressive the sets and staging were. (He was duly impressed.)

Which brings me to my second reason for so thoroughly loving this show: it was a spectacle. As I’ve said before, I’m big on ceremony. I love pomp and circumstance and pageantry and huge, sappy gestures. Whether it’s the Olympics, the Tonys, the Super Bowl, Presidential inaugurations, soldier homecomings, “We Are The World”, or a flashmob wedding proposal — the more people who come together to joyfully celebrate something, the more I am ALL IN.
Would you look how excited these guys were when they finished? How can you not love that??

Grease: Live also contained one of my favorite forms of entertainment: a peek behind the scenes. When I was a little girl and lucky enough to go to Broadway shows, my mom made sure we sat in the front row of the balcony so she could point out the marks on stage and we could see the orchestra, the actors behind the curtains, etc. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Likewise, I got such a thrill glimpsing the cameras on Grease:Live, watching Vanessa Hudgens take a group selfie, and seeing how Keke Palmer’s ultra-fast costume change happened. For me, those details don’t take away from the effectiveness or power of the production; they add to it. In this case, they helped fuel my belief that we were witnessing one helluva television feat.

The final reason why Grease: Live really hit home for me was completely unexpected: watching it with my girls was just the best. I hadn’t planned for us to watch it together; at 9 and 11, they’re too young for the material of the original, and I assumed the same would be true here. But then I read that Fox changed some of the racier lyrics (ditching “sh*t” and “p*ssy” is probably wise when it comes to prime time) and they were aiming for a “family friendly” show, so I decided to give it a go.

(Fox and I must disagree on what constitutes “family friendly” because the broken condom and Rizzo’s pregnancy scare were still in last night’s production [this isn’t a problem or a complaint – they’re integral to the plot line; I just wouldn’t normally choose to show Ella and Annie a story where multiple sexual partners play a critical role], so my girls saw a slightly censored version…)

At first, they weren’t enthusiastic. “Why do we have to watch this stupid musical?” I told them to give it a few minutes; then they could go elsewhere.

They never moved.

By the time I sent them to bed with an hour remaining in the broadcast, they were absolutely hooked, with Ella yelling, “THANK GOD!” when I told her I was recording it and they could see the rest tomorrow.

It wasn’t just that they liked it; these are kids who think watching America’s Funniest Home Videos on YouTube is quality entertainment, so I take their “approval” with a grain of salt. No, they felt it; they got it. Ella understood the show’s humor immediately and was “in” on all the jokes, which was such a hoot. (Her raised eyebrows when Principal McGee announced she was “looking for a place to build a bomb shelter with enough room for almost everyone” were priceless. “ALMOST everyone??”)

Annie was so into Sandy and Danny, so rooting for them. “But Mom! He didn’t want to dance with Cha Cha! HE STILL LIKES SANDY. Omg, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THEM??” It was hilarious and sweet and fantastic.

Also unexpectedly, I found myself thinking about the musical’s message. Turns out, it’s kinda awful (I mean, the underlying “moral is: Change your appearance and give up your values to get a man, right?!). And yet, as I found myself analyzing the plot and the characters in ways I hadn’t before, I discovered why I liked the story so much all those years ago.

Kids! They make you do the darndest things.

Plus, there was still the music. Even if the vocals were lackluster at times  – and tremendous at others – the songs remain the same. They’re infectious and timeless. Sharing all of it with Annie and Ella was, in a word, wonderful.

Since I don’t remember the first time I saw the movie Grease, I don’t know if I experienced similar euphoria upon watching it. Maybe I did. Or maybe it just grew on me; hard to say. I don’t know how Grease: Live will hold up over time. Perhaps I’ll be just as awed by it in ten years. Or perhaps this feeling will fade and I’ll discover the production doesn’t carry its weight; its success was in the spectacle.

Either way, I doubt I’ll forget how it felt last night to be a part of it, to sing along, to watch my girls joining in the celebration.

Grease was definitely the way we were feeling.